Predictions are a funny thing, as our tendency as humans seems to be to take the recent past and extrapolate way into the future, and as a result we almost always miss the disruptive technologies that really matter.  I’m a little late to the game for 2009 predictions as many working in travel have already made theirs, and the most common theme I am picking up is that this year airlines will be more careful where they spend their precious resources and will want to see better value for money. Hmmm. To me, a prediction like that is about as valuable as saying that we have done a study, and 4 out of ever 5 people represent 80% of the population.  Let’s see if mine are any better:

In no particular order.

  • Nudge is the new push – Rather than being an always forward moving line, innovation can sometimes seem like resembling more of a circular motion. With the death of Pointcast in the late 1990’s people said push was dead, but then a key Pointcast exec moved into the email space and it was supposedly alive again. And we still hadn’t entered the new millenium! RSS was push by another name, but whilst it is incredibly useful for news feeds, the experience of no longer regularly updating their feed would suggest it didn’t work as an airline promotional tool. I first used the phrase Nudge a couple of years ago in reference to something a bit softer than push, but I’ve never really promoted the term. If nudge is more contextual, then push is closer to spam, at least as far as email and mobile comunication is concerned – in short, a nudge is a soft push. 2009 will see airlines reassess their customer communications and look at who owns customer comms (is it dotcom, loyalty, a different department) and ensure continual optimization based on incremental revenue per communication. If I had to pick one area where airline direct sales could do things massively better for a relatively small amount of money, this would be the one. On a lighter note, hopefully this nudge fares better than the previous Nudge (inside joke for Aussies).  
  • Defriending – It is not a new term, yet I have never heard anyone in the airline industry mention it. I have heard countless airline execs, consultants to the industry, and IT vendors talk about the incredible growth of social networks and how airlines must position themselves to sell via this new channel. Hype! A lot has been spent with very little to show for it. Defriending may not show up in official statistics, as more teenagers will come online and obscure the impact of adult airline customers getting jaded with Facebook and Linkedin etc, but don’t be fooled into thinking all ordinary adult consumers are as in love with this technology as those who make their living from selling it. Utilizing similar tools in a corporation is definintely an untapped market (why do secretaries manually update spreadsheets with employee travel plans – crazy, yet easy to solve), but for airline direct channels, defriending as described here is meant to cover everything that makes you realize social networking is not going to go away, but by the time you work out how to make money from it, it will look very different to the way it does today.
  • Location, Location, Location – Estate agents have known these words are the most important three words for many years, but this year we will start to see some airlines and their partners using ‘location‘ to get much higher conversion rates on ancillary revenue offers. There is so much happening in this area, that surely one of them has to stick. Whether it is android, other GPS enabled phonesSIM cards, mobile itineraries, more effective use of PNR data combined with destination content, or something that is still totally below the radar, one thing is clear – more targeted marketing to travellers based on their current or upcoming location will improve significantly in 2009.
  • One efficient direct channel back office – this prediction is just common sense, but I am amazed at how many airlines maintain duplicate and/or inconsistent processes and separate back offices for internet, and for call centre, and for B2B, and for staff travel, and for airport sales and city ticket offices. Maybe the increased focus on cost cutting will force airlines to look a this duplication of cost, something many consider to be a sacred cow or political hot potato. There are very few airlines today really going after these costs aggressively, but in coming months I hope to write about a few of those that are.
  • One airline will launch the Web 2.0 killer app – I’m not the only one to question the social networking hype, or be very lukewarm on things like twitter, but don’t mistake that for being a luddite. Maybe there is only a 20% chance this will come true in 2009, but Southwest’s Ding is a few years old and was a great step in the right direction, KLM have made a valiant attempt with bluenityQantas are trying something with their frequent flier community (why the headlines only RSS feed on this?), and countless other airlines are taking small steps in this direction. Maybe 2009 will be the year one airline really gets it right, and when they do we will all sit back and ask why didn’t we do it first. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this killer application will need to be successful, and it will take a visionary person in an airline e-commerce department to make it a reality, but the championship title is definintely up for grabs on this one.       

I’ve been impressed with others that have gone back and reviewed their 2008 predictions a year later, so hopefully I’ll be in a position in 12 months to put at least 3 or 4 ticks next to the above bullet points.